posted on February 21, 2014 14:35
The 14 men seated on the front row were in or closing in on their 10th decade on earth. Some of them were bent and wheelchair-bound. A couple were spry and alert. Several had trouble hearing, even when their names were called and their courage recounted.
Seventy years ago, they were young men. Boys, really. Eighteen, nineteen years old, maybe in their early twenties. They went to war. They fought in combat in France. They liberated Europe. They defeated the Nazis. They saved civilization from savagery.
This week, in a ceremony at the State Capitol, the oft-reviled French thanked them. The French consul general in Atlanta bestowed his government’s Legion of Honor on the 14 North Carolinians. His news release said the ceremony was “to express France’s eternal gratitude to those who liberated it from oppression from 1944-45.”
Senator Josh Stein, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and Governor Pat McCrory spoke, and spoke well. The consul general struggled with the language and pronunciations, but was heartfelt.
Still, no words could do justice to those 14 men, what they did and what they experienced.
One of them is my stepfather, Joe Dickerson, whom I’ve written about before. Joe was in the first wave at Omaha Beach. For three months, he fought across France, Holland, Belgium and Luxemburg. On Friday, October 13, 1944, between Aachen and Julich, in Germany, he was crawling through a wire fence when a German 88 shell exploded, killed the buddy beside him and wounded Joe in the arm and head. He woke up a week later in a field hospital. They shipped him home for a long recovery. He was awarded a Silver Star and a Bronze Star for heroism. He received a Purple Heart with four Oak Leaf Clusters. That means he was wounded five times in combat. He has so much metal in his arm that airport scanners go berserk when he gets close.
Joe went on to be a successful businessman and civic leader in Murfreesboro. He’s a quiet, modest, great-grandfather today. You struggle to see him dragging the wounded, bleeding but still living, out of the water on D-Day, under withering fire all the time. Or fighting hand-to-hand with German soldiers. Or taking out three tanks with a bazooka.
And there were 14 stories like his Thursday.
Secretary Marshall noted that they are called the Greatest Generation. They are also, she added, “tough old birds.”
In a blog that celebrates politics, democracy and free speech, their names deserve our attention and respect:
- George F. Tyson Jr, from Mebane, NC (Ret. Colonel, L Company, 399th Infantry Regiment, 100th Infantry Division)
- John Salop from Charlotte, NC (Commander, USS. Charles F. Hughes)
- Allen D. Evans from Chapel Hill, NC (Staff Sergeant, Headquarters Battery, 76th Field Artillery Battalion)
- Gerald M. Anderson from Pinehurst, NC (Sergeant, 16th Regiment, 1st Infantry Division)
- Jessie O. Bowman from Granite Falls, NC (Sergeant, 345th Regiment, 87th Infantry Division)
- Carl R. Britt from Conway, NC (Sergeant, 274th Infantry Regiment, 70th Division)
- Donald F. Johnston from Cary, NC (Sergeant, Company L, 410th Infantry Regiment, 103rd Division)
- Joseph H. Collie from Durham, NC (Corporal, Company B, 397th Infantry)
- James W. Toffton from Rock Mount, NC (Corporal, 555th Signal Aircraft Warning Battalion)
- Norwood McKoy from Wilmington, NC (Technician 5th Grade, 192nd Chemical Deploy Company)
- Joseph Q. Dickerson from Murfreesboro, NC (Private First Class, Company E, 116th Infantry)
- Richard L. Hammel from Murfreesboro, NC (Private First Class, 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment)
- Paul E. Haney from Reidsville, NC (Private First Class, 80th Cavalry Reconnaissance troop)
- James F. Sansom from Cary, NC (Private First Class, 1560th Service Command Unit Station Complement).
Friday, February 21, 2014 3:03 PM
So proud of these fellows. Being a Vietnam Veteran serving 8 years in service to our country, I know how serving abroad in war changes who you are and how the experience changes your very soul.
I hesitate to make this political. Politics was not what these guys were involved in or cared about. They were there because America asked them to be there and they believed in their country and fought for their country because it was the very best country to ever exist on Planet Earth. And, they were right.
What they fought against was tyranny. What they fought for and believed in was against what America was all about at that time in history.
Sometimes talking to my kids and grands I see that because of what America has become today, they don't see what America was and that they don't understand just exactly why these men gave so much for so many for such a great cause.
Thanks to all of these guys and to every single veteran that has had to put himself in harms way for our great nation whether he/she was involved in the "action" or just in a support position when their safety was never, ever a certainty.
God Bless Them.